For a performance venue like “The Word Barn” in Exeter to fly under the radar — as it seems to be doing — is pretty remarkable. Makes me wonder if that’s how it was planned to be, on the hush-hush, a slow build into something special.
Then again, the place was packed last Saturday night. People staring down from the upper level, listening from the yard through the large windows, from the seats and stools inside, getting knocked backward by the beauty of Sean Rowe’s monstrous voice and ninja finger moves on his guitar.
What the owners, Ben and Sarah Anderson, are providing for the region’s art community is quality creativity at an honest price. Set in a barn attached to a house off Newfield Road, tucked so quietly close to the road — we drove past the entrance four times heading to the show — this is the ideal place to visit if you love word, or song, or are just tired of having the same old conversation.
Artist or fan, a room like The Word Barn is worth entering.
Soundcheck touched base with Sarah and Ben and were eager to find out all about The Word Barn.
1. So, I was blown away by everything about The Word Barn this past weekend. How did this venue come to be?
(BEN) Honestly, it took me years to pull the trigger on offering shows in the space because I feared it was too small, but it came to be after a favorite act, The Stray Birds, were passing through and no other venues were available. I pitched the idea, they were game, and the night turned out to be amazing from all perspectives.
(SARAH) Two years ago this month, I hosted my first reading — a medley of seven voices… what I call The Silo Series — I have hosted eight other readings, each featuring 2-3 writers, with roughly a 2-3 month period between reach reading. Recently, the readings have been more frequent. To me, having music and literature in The Word Barn makes sense. It represents who Ben and I are. I have long-admired his ability to have a vision and make it happen, and it’s exciting to me that we are both doing this with our respective passions in the same space.
2. How do you go about choosing the musicians and writers that perform at The Word Barn?
(BEN) For me, The Word Barn is a creative outlet in a pure passion project form; bringing in music that I love and want to share and celebrate. And, working with people I enjoy and appreciate – from my music partner to the acts, volunteers to attendees. It’s an incredible intimate space, and the joy and energy exchanged between the audience and artist and vice versa is unique and what makes the whole thing so special.
(SARAH) I present writers whose work I love. I try to pair a poet with a fiction writer as often as possible; presenting both genres seems to draw a broader audience base. Occasionally, writer friends will suggest a potential Silo Series reader, and that is how I have found some readers. My readers have ranged from nationally acclaimed writers to lesser known names whose work is just as moving. I like that the poet laureate of Vermont read in the series as did another poet who may be trying to break into the publishing scene.
3. What does the town of Exeter think of the venue?
(BEN) Everyone loves and appreciates it – which makes the whole thing even better. It’s entire focus is on community. It’s a ‘glorified house concert’, if you will, and meant to feel like you are in someone’s living room…
4. Do you have a chance to enjoy it when someone like Sean Rowe is performing or is it work?
(BEN) Every single minute… under a spell of delight.
(SARAH) Yes, I feel spoiled when I host readings, because once I have welcomed the audience and introduced the writer, I get to sit and take in the reading.
5. What drives you both to provide such a generous setting?
(BEN) It’s a shared passion, and a serious natural high that is shared by me, the artists and audience alike. Nothing beats the feeling that comes along with The Word Barn when it is full and humming. It’s a blessing to be able to offer up this kind of experience for people to enjoy.
(SARAH) Since moving to Exeter five years ago, I have met many writers who are thirsty for more places to experience readings…it has been thrilling to meet so many more writers and lovers of the written word.
6. What’s up next in the coming months? And what haven’t you done that you hope to do down the road?
(BEN) More great music, friendship and celebration.
(SARAH) I have two more readings scheduled for this Spring (April & May) and summer writing workshops on the docket. One thing I have not done but hope to do down the road is host a small literary festival of sorts. It would be a one-two day event, featuring readings, workshops, classes on the craft of writing, film screenings, lectures, and group activities.
Go to the wordbarn.com for everything going on. It’s a must.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org